The left fractions and the question of organisational discipline

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In a previous article (InternationalReview n°108), we described the emergence of the leftfractions that fought the degeneration of the old workers'parties, in particular the German SPD that supported the wareffort of its national capital in 1914, and the Russian CP and theThird International as they were being transformed intoinstruments of the Russian state with the progressive defeat ofthe October Revolution. In this process, the task of the fractionswas to struggle to re-conquer the organisation for the fundamentalpositions of the proletarian programme, against their abandonmentby the opportunist right and the complete betrayal by theleadership controlling the majority of the organisation. Topreserve the organisation as an instrument of the class struggleand to save as many militants as possible, one of the leftfractions' main concerns was to remain in the party as long aspossible. However, the process of political degeneration wasinevitably accompanied by a profound modification in the partiesthemselves, and in the relationships between the militants and theorganisation as a whole. Inevitably, this situation posed for thefractions the problem of breaking party discipline in order tofulfil their task of preparing the new party of the proletariat.

In fact, within the workers' movement theleft has always defended the rigorous respect of theorganisation's rules and discipline. Breaking party discipline wasnot something to be taken lightly, but on the contrary demanded agreat sense of responsibility, a profound evaluation of the stakesand the future perspectives for both the proletariat and itsorganisation.

The purpose of thisarticle is to examine how the question of discipline was posed inthe history of the working class' organisations, and in particularhow it was treated by the left fractions in two great workers'parties: the 2ndand 3rdInternationals. We will see how the left fractions struggledwithin these parties to defend the revolutionary line againsttheir degeneration. Finally, we will see how the question wasposed in the left fractions of which we, and most of the otherorganisations of the proletarian political milieu, are the heirs.To do so, we must first examine more generally how the question ofdiscipline is posed within class society, and more particularlyhow it is posed for the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Discipline and consciousness

The idea that every human activity needs tobe organised according to rules is banal enough, whether at thelevel of a small collective or of society as a whole. Thedifference between communism and all the previous class societiesthat have preceded it, is not that communism will be lessorganised - on the contrary, for the first time the humancommunity will be organised on a planetary scale - but that socialorganisation will no longer be imposed on an exploited class tothe profit of an exploiting class. "The government ofmen", as Marx said, "will be replaced by theadministration of things". However, as long as we live inclass society, "the government of men" is notsomething neutral. Under capitalism, discipline in the factory orthe office is imposed by the ruling class on the exploited class,and guaranteed in the last instance by the state through labourlaw backed up by armed force. The bourgeoisie would like us tobelieve that the state and its discipline stands above society,independent of classes - that everyone is equal before thediscipline of the law. Marxism attacks this mystification head-on,showing that no element of social organisation or behaviour can beconsidered independently of its social role and status withinclass society. As Lenin wrote, to use "abstract conceptsof 'democracy' and 'dictatorship', without specifying what classis in question (...) is a downright mockery of the basic theory ofsocialism (...) For in no civilised capitalist country is there'democracy in the abstract', there is only bourgeois democracy".1In the same way, it makes no sense to talk of "discipline"as such: we must identify the class nature of the discipline underconsideration. In capitalist society, freedom as such (whichappears as the opposite to discipline) is an illusion, since onthe one hand humanity lives under the reign of necessity and istherefore not free in its choices, and on the other because humanconsciousness is inevitably mystified by the false consciousnessof the ruling ideology. Freedom does not mean doing what onelikes, but reaching the most complete understanding possible ofwhat it is necessary to do. As Engels said in Anti-Dühring,"Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but thecapacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject.Therefore the freer a man's judgement is in relation to a definitequestion, the greater is the necessity with which the content ofthis judgement will be determined; while the uncertainty, foundedon ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among manydifferent and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely bythis that it is not free, that it is controlled by the very objectit should itself control".2The aim of marxist theory - historical and dialectical materialism- is precisely to make it possible for the proletariat to acquirethis "knowledge of the subject" of bourgeoissociety. Only thus will the revolutionary class be able to breakthe enemy class' discipline - its dictatorship - over society, andin doing so lay the foundations for the creation of the first freehuman society: free because for the first time, the whole ofhumanity will possess a conscious mastery both of the naturalworld and of its own social organisation.

Marxism has alwaysfought the influence of petty-bourgeois revolt infiltrating theworkers' movement, and the idea specific to anarchism that it isenough to oppose bourgeois discipline with "non-discipline",a so-called "proletarian indiscipline" so to speak.3The worker experiences bourgeois discipline as something foreignto him and to his interests, a discipline imposed from above inorder to enforce the power and interests of the ruling class.Unlike the petty-bourgeois, however, who can do nothing butrevolt, the working class is capable of understanding thediscipline imposed by capitalism as having a dual nature: on theone hand, an oppressive side, the expression of the class rule ofthe bourgeoisie which appropriates privately the fruits of theproletariat's labour; on the other hand, a potentiallyrevolutionary side, as a requirement of a collective process oflabour imposed by capital on the proletariat, itself a fundamentalprecondition for the planetary socialisation of production. It isprecisely this idea that Lenin expressed in One step forward,two steps back, dealing with the question in the only waypossible for a marxist: by treating "discipline" not asan abstract category in itself, but as an organisational vectordetermined by its class belonging: "the factory, whichseems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form ofcapitalist co-operation which has united and disciplined theproletariat, taught it to organise, and placed it at the head ofall the other sections of the toiling and exploited population.And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained bycapitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals todistinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation(discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as ameans of organisation (discipline based on collective work unitedby the conditions of a technically highly developed form ofproduction). The discipline and organisation, which come so hardto the bourgeois intellectual, are very easily acquired by theproletariat just because of this factory "schooling".Mortal fear of this school and utter failure to understand itsimportance as an organising factor are characteristic of the waysof thinking which reflect the petty-bourgeois mode of life".Obviously, Lenin does not mean here to idealise the disciplineimposed on workers by the bourgeoisie,4but to show how the conditions of its existence have determinedthe attitude of the working class to the question of discipline,as indeed to other aspects of its self-activity. The conditions ofhis existence demonstrate to the worker that he is part of acollective productive process, and that he cannot defend hisinterests against the ruling class other than through collectiveaction. The great difference between the discipline of thebourgeoisie and of the proletariat is this: whereas the former isa discipline imposed by an exploiting class with all the power ofits state apparatus in order to maintain its own domination, thelatter is fundamentally the self-discipline of an exploitedclass in order to oppose a collective resistance to exploitationand eventually to overthrow it altogether. The proletariat thuscalls on a conscious, voluntary discipline, inspired by anunderstanding of the goals of its struggle. Where bourgeoisdiscipline is blind and oppressive, the discipline that theproletariat imposes on itself is liberating and conscious. In thissense, this discipline can never be substituted for an awarenessthroughout the proletariat of the goals of its movement and themeans to reach them.

What is true for the class as a whole is alsotrue for its revolutionary organisations. However, there aredifferences. Whereas the working class' collective discipline, itsunity of action, and its centralisation are the direct expressionsof its collective and organised nature, its being as arevolutionary class, discipline within revolutionary organisationsis founded on each member's commitment to respect theorganisation's rules, and the most developed consciousness of whatthese rules express. No revolutionary organisation can usediscipline to replace this proletarian consciousness.Revolutionary organisations cannot substitute discipline for thewidest debate within the organisation, any more than the workingclass as a whole can advance in its struggle against thebourgeoisie without developing an ever deeper and broaderconsciousness of the demands of the struggle and the path tofollow.

It was in this sensethat the GCF (Gauche Communiste de France) denounced thediscipline imposed by the Internationalist Communist Party on itsown militants, without debate, in order to force through itspolicy of participation in the Italian elections in 1946:"Socialism (...) is only possible as a conscious act ofthe working class (...) You cannot bring socialism with atruncheon. Not because the truncheon is an immoral means (...) butbecause the truncheon does not contain the element ofconsciousness (...) The only basis for concerted communist actionand organisation is the consciousness of the militants on whichthey are based. The greater and the clearer is this consciousness,the stronger the organisation and the more concerted and effectiveits action

"Lenin morethan once violently denounced the recourse to 'freely consenteddiscipline' as a truncheon of the bureaucracy. If he used the termdiscipline, he understood it - and he explained this many times -in the sense of the will to organised action, based on therevolutionary conviction of each militant ".5

It is no accident thatthis article looks back to Lenin, and to the Lenin of One stepforward, two steps back. The organisation that published thisarticle in 1947 was the same that had reacted with the greatestfirmness against those within its own ranks who had put in danger"the will to organised action" (see below).

Within the communist organisation,proletarian discipline is thus inseparable from discussion, thepitiless criticism of capitalist society, but also of its ownmistakes and those of the working class as a whole.

We will now considerhow the left fought to defend party discipline in the 2ndand 3rdInternationals.

Revisionism against party discipline inthe SPD

In the two decades that preceded World War I,the German SPD, the flower of the Second International, was thescene of an increasingly bitter struggle between the left and therevisionist, opportunist right. The latter was epitomisedtheoretically by the "revisionist" theories of EduardBernstein, and appeared in two distinct but allied forms: on theone hand a tendency of the parliamentary fractions to takeinitiatives independently of the party as a whole; on the otherthe refusal by the leaders of the trades unions to be bound by thedecisions of the party. In Social Reform or Revolution(first published in 1899), Rosa Luxemburg pointed to thedevelopment of the practical opportunism that laid the groundworkfor Bernstein's opportunist theory: "If we take intoconsideration sporadic manifestations, such as the question ofsubsidies for steamships, the opportunist currents in our movementhave existed for a long time. But it is only since the beginningof the 1890s with the suppression of the anti-socialist laws andthe re-conquest of the terrain of legality, that we have had anexplicit, unitary, opportunist current. Vollmar's 'statesocialism', the vote on the Bavarian budget, the 'agrariansocialism' of South Germany, Heine's policy of compensation,Schippel's stand on tariffs and militarism, are the high points inthe development of the opportunist practice".6Without entering into the detail of all these examples, it issignificant that Vollmar's "state socialism" includedthe vote by the Bavarian SPD of the budgets proposed by theBavarian Land (parliament), explicitly against the decisionof the majority of the party. Against the refusal of theopportunist right to respect the decisions of the majority and ofthe party congress, the left demanded the strengthening of partycentralisation and particularly of the Parteivorstand (thecentral executive), and the subordination of the parliamentaryfractions to the party as a whole. It was doubtless theexperience of this struggle that Luxemburg had in mind in replyingto Lenin on Organisational questions of Russian SocialDemocracy7in 1904: "In [the German] case, a more rigorousapplication of the idea of centralism in the constitution and astricter application of party discipline can no doubt be a usefulsafeguard against the opportunist current (?) Such a revision ofthe constitution of the German party has now become a necessity.But in this case too, the party constitution should not be seen asa kind of self-sufficient weapon against opportunism but merely asan external means through which the decisive influence of thepresent revolutionary-proletarian majority of the party can beexercised. When such a majority is lacking, the most rigorouswritten constitution cannot act in its place".

Clearly, the left stoodfor the most intransigent defence of party centralisation anddiscipline, and for the defence of the statutes.8Indeed, just as Rosa Luxemburg expresses her determination here,at the end of the 19thcentury, to defend the German party through rigorous discipline,so she constantly fought for the respect of the decisions of thecongresses of the 2ndInternational by all its constituent parties.9

1914: a coup d'Etat within theparty itself

Throughout the period that preceded the war,the left fought for a discipline faithful to revolutionaryprinciples. We can readily imagine, therefore, the terribledilemma that confronted Karl Liebknecht and the otherparliamentary deputies of the left on 4thAugust 1914, when the majority of the SPD's parliamentary fractionannounced that it would vote the war credits demanded by theKaiser's government: either break with proletarianinternationalism by voting the war credits, or vote as a minorityagainst the war and so break party discipline. What Liebknecht andhis comrades failed to understand at this critical moment, wasthat once the Social Democracy had betrayed its most basicprinciples by abandoning proletarian internationalism andsupporting the war effort of the ruling class, and had broken withthe decisions of its own congresses and of the International, itwas the Social-Democratic leadership which in reality had brokenparty discipline. The left could no longer pose the question inthe same way. By allying itself with the bourgeois state theparliamentary fraction of the SPD had carried out a veritable coupd'Etat within the party, and had seized for itself anauthority to which it had no right, but which it imposed thanks tothe armed power of the capitalist state. For Rosa Luxemburg,"Discipline towards the party as a whole, in other wordstowards its programme, takes precedence over any corps discipline,and alone can justify the latter, just as it defines the latter'snatural limit". It was the leadership, not the left,which from the outset of the war perpetrated endless violations ofparty discipline with the support of the state, "violationsof discipline which consist in specific organs of the Partybetraying on their own initiative the will of the whole, in otherwords the programme, instead of serving it".10And to make sure that the mass of militants remained unable tocontest the decision of the leadership, on the 5thAugust (ie the day after the vote for war credits), the partycongress was put off for the duration of the war. With goodreason, as the development of an opposition within the SPD was toshow.11

In the years thatfollowed, the left of the SPD, which remained faithful toproletarian internationalism, confronted a veritable bourgeoisdiscipline within the party itself. Inevitably, the activity ofthe Spartakus Group broke the party discipline as it was nowinterpreted and applied by the SPD leadership in alliance with thestate.12 Thequestion now was not how to maintain the discipline and unity ofthe proletarian organisation, but how to avoid giving theleadership disciplinary pretexts for expelling them from the partyand isolating from the militants whose resistance to the war wasbeginning to emerge, inevitably taking the expression of aresistance to the coup d'Etat of the leadership.

An example of thedifficulty the left experienced in thus determining its action isthe disagreement that appeared within the left over the payment ofdues to the SPD centre by the local sections. This was indeed adifficult question: money - the dues of its militants - is indeed"the sinew of war" for a working class organisation.However, by 1916 it was obvious that the SPD leadership was ineffect embezzling the funds of the organisation to fight, not theclass war of the working class, but the imperialist war of thebourgeoisie. Under these conditions, Spartakus called on the localmilitants to "stop paying your dues to the partyleadership, because it uses your hard-earned money for supportinga policy, for publishing texts which want to turn you into thepatient cannon-fodder of imperialism, all of which aims atprolonging the massacre".13

For a new International, aninternational discipline

From the outset of the left's struggleagainst the betrayal of 1914, the question was posed of thecreation of a new International. For some revolutionaries, such asOtto Rühle,14the utter betrayal of the SPD and its ferocious use of amechanical discipline imposed in collaboration with the state,were the definitive proof that all political parties wereinevitably condemned to become bureaucratic monsters and betraythe working class, no matter what their programme. This was notthe conclusion of the vast majority of the left, who were to leadthe fight for the construction of a new International and thevictory of the proletarian revolution begun in Petrograd inOctober 1917. For Rosa Luxemburg, as Paul Frölich explains"the workers' movement had to break with the elementswhich had gone over to imperialism; it was necessary to create anew workers' International, an International of a higher kind thanthe old one, 'with a unified understanding of theproletariat's interests and tasks, a coherent tactic, and acapacity for intervention in both peace and war'. The greatestimportance was attached to international discipline: 'TheInternational is the centre of gravity of the proletariat's classorganisation. In time of peace, the International decides thetactics to be adopted by the national sections on militarism,colonial policy, (...) etc, and the entire tactic to be adopted incase of war. The obligation to apply the decisions of theInternational takes precedence over every other obligation of theorganisation. (...) The fatherland of the workers, to whicheverything else must be subordinated, is the socialistInternational'".15

When, in June 1920, thedelegates assembled in Moscow for the Second Congress of theCommunist International, civil war was still raging in Russia andrevolutionaries world wide were locked in combat both with thebourgeoisie and with the social-traitors: the old parties whichhad betrayed the working class by supporting the war. They werealso confronted with the wavering of the "centrist"parties, which still hesitated to break off all their links withtheir old socialist methods, or indeed in the case of manyleaders, with their old friends who had stayed in the rottingSocial Democracy. Nor were the centrists prepared to breakradically with their old legalistic tactics. In such a situation,the communists and especially the left wing were determined thatthe new International should not repeat the mistakes of the old inthe matter of discipline. There would be no more autonomy of theparticularities of the national parties, which had served as amask for chauvinism in the old International,16no more toleration of the petty-bourgeois careerist whose interestlay in his personal parliamentary career. The CommunistInternational was to be a fighting organisation, the leadership ofthe proletariat in its decisive worldwide struggle for power andthe overthrow of capitalism. This determination is reflected inthe 21 Conditions for adherence to the International, adopted bythe Congress. Let us cite point 12 as an example: "Theparties belonging to the Communist International must be built onthe principle of democratic centralisation. In the present epochof bitter civil war, the communist party will not be able tofulfil its role unless it is organised in the most centralisedmanner, unless an iron discipline close to military discipline isaccepted and unless the central organ is accorded the widestpowers, exercises an undisputed authority, and benefits from theunanimous confidence of the militants".

The 21 conditions werestrengthened by the organisation's statutes, which clearlyestablished that the International should be a world wide andcentralised party. According to point 9 of the statutes: "TheExecutive Committee [the central organ of the International]of the Communist International has the right to demand thatgroups or individuals who have infringed proletarian disciplineshould be excluded from the affiliated parties; it can demand theexclusion of parties which have violated the decisions of theWorld Congress".

That this determinationwas fully shared by the left is demonstrated by the fact that the21stcondition was proposed by Amadeo Bordiga, leader of the left inthe Italian Socialist Party: "Members of the party whoreject the conditions and theses adopted by the CommunistInternational must be excluded from the party. The same is true ofdelegates to the Extraordinary Congress".

The degeneration of the party and theloss of proletarian discipline

With the ebb of the revolutionary wave of1917, came the tragic degeneration of the Communist International.The Russian working class was bled white by civil war, theKronstadt revolt had been crushed, the revolution defeated in allthe central countries of Europe (Germany, Italy, Hungary, France,Britain), and the International itself was dominated by a Russianstate already under the rule of Stalin and the GPU. The year 1925was to be the year of "bolshevisation": the reduction ofthe International to the status of a tool in the hands of Russianstate capitalism. As the counter-revolution advanced in theInternational, proletarian discipline gave way to the truncheon ofbourgeois discipline.

Inevitably, such adegeneration encountered a bitter opposition from the leftcommunists both inside Russia (the Miasnikov group, Trotsky andthe Left Opposition, the Democratic Centralism group), and withinthe International itself, especially from the left of the ItalianCP around Bordiga. Once again, as it had been during the war of1914, the left was confronted with a party discipline, which - inRussia at least - was enforced by Stalin's GPU, the prison, andthe concentration camp. But the International was not the Russianstate, and the Italian left was determined to fight to wrest theInternational from the hands of the right, and to preserve it forthe working class. What it was not prepared to do, was to conductthe struggle by throwing overboard the very principles it hadfought for at the effective founding of the International at its2ndCongress. In particular, Bordiga and the left were not prepared toabandon the discipline of a centralised party to theiradversaries. In March-April of 1925, the left wing of the Italianparty made a first attempt to work as an organised grouping byforming a "Committee of Entente": "When theCongress was announced, a Committee of Entente was formedspontaneously in order to avoid disorganised reactions byindividuals or groups, which would have led to a splintering, andto channel the action of all the comrades of the Left along acommon and responsible line, within the strict limits ofdiscipline, the respect of their rights being guaranteed to all inthe Party's constitution. The leadership [ie, of theInternational] seized on this fact and used it in its plan ofagitation to present the comrades of the Left as fractionists andsplitters, forbidding them to defend themselves and winning votesagainst them in the federal committees by pressure exercised fromabove" (Lyon Theses, 1926).17

The International'spresidium demanded the dissolution of the Entente Committee, andthe left bowed to this decision under protest: "Accused offractionism and splittism, we will sacrifice our opinions to theunity of the Party, by carrying out an order which we considerunjust and ruinous for the Party. We will thus demonstrate thatthe Italian left is perhaps the only current which considersdiscipline as something serious which cannot be bargained away. Wereaffirm our previous positions and our acts. We deny that theCommittee of Entente was a manoeuvre aimed at splitting the Partyand creating a fraction within it, and we protest again at thecampaign conducted on this basis, without even giving us the rightto defend ourselves, and by scandalously deceiving the Party.Nonetheless, since the Presidium thinks that the dissolution ofthe Committee of Entente will eliminate fractionism, and althoughwe are of a contrary opinion, we will obey. But we leave to theExecutive Committee the entire responsibility for the evolution ofthe situation within the Party, and for the reactions caused bythe way in which the leadership has administered its internallife".

When Karl Korsch,recently expelled from the KPD18,wrote to Bordiga in 1926 to propose joint action between theItalian left and the German Kommunistische Politik group, Bordigarefused. Two of the reasons he gave are worth citing here. On theone hand, he did not consider that the theoretical basis for sucha stand had yet been established: "In general, I thinkthat what must be a priority today is, more than organisation andmanoeuvring, a work of elaborating a political ideology of theinternational left, based on the eloquent experiences that theComintern has been through. As this point is far from beingattained, any international initiative seems difficult".On the other, the unity and international centralisation of theInternational was not something to be abandoned lightly: "Weshould not be in favour of splitting parties and theInternational. We should allow the experience of artificial andmechanical discipline to reach its conclusion by respecting thisdiscipline in all its procedural absurdities as long as this ispossible, without ever renouncing our political and ideologicalcritique and without ever solidarising with the dominantorientation".19

The struggle of the Italian Left, firstagainst the degeneration of the International, then to draw outthe lessons of its degeneration and of the defeat of the Russianrevolution, was critical in the creation of today's proletarianpolitical milieu. All the major proletarian currents that existtoday, including the ICC, are the direct descendants of thatstruggle, and for us there is no doubt that their defence ofproletarian discipline within the International was one of thestruggle's critical elements. The proletarian discipline of theInternational was essential in delimiting it from thesocial-traitors, in defining what behaviour was and was notacceptable within the organisations of the working class. But asBordiga clearly implies, proletarian discipline is completelyforeign to the discipline imposed on exploited classes by thecapitalist state.

The question of discipline in the LeftFraction

Once it could no longer work within theInternational, after being excluded by the Stalinist leadership,the Italian Left Fraction adopted its own organisational form(around the publication Bilan), by drawing the lessons fromits struggles for and within the International.

First amongst these wasthe insistence on discussion "without taboos", as Bilanput it, in order to understand all the lessons of the immenseexperience that had been the revolutionary wave after October1917. But the left fractions were also confronted by internalcrises, when "the will to organised action, based on therevolutionary conviction of each militant" proved wantingamongst a minority within the organisation. What is to be donewhen the very framework which makes this organised action possibleis undermined by the organisation's own militants? The first ofthese crises that we will examine here occurred in 1936, when alarge minority of the Bilan group rejected the majorityposition that the war in Spain was being fought, not on theterrain of the proletarian revolution but on the terrain of theimperialist war. The minority demanded the right to take up armsin defence of the Spanish "revolution", and despite aveto by Bilan's Executive Commission (EC) 26 members of theminority left for Barcelona where they established a new section.This new section in Barcelona refused to pay its dues, integratednew members on the basis of participation on the military front inSpain, and demanded the recognition of both the Barcelona sectionand the newly integrated militants as a pre-condition for itscontinued activity within the organisation.20

The Italian Lefttreated the question of discipline in its own ranks in accord withits conception of the organisation, and of its relationship to itsmilitants. Thus the EC "decided that the discussion shouldnot be carried on in a hurried manner so that the organisation canbenefit from the contribution of the comrades who are unable atthe moment to intervene actively in the debate, and also becausethe further evolution of the situation in Spain will allow for amore complete clarification of the fundamental differences whichhave emerged".21Given the extent of the disagreements, the EC knew that a splitwas inevitable and considered that priority should be given toprogrammatic clarification. To make this possible, it was ready topass over some of the minority's violations of the statutes, so asnot to give it a pretext for leaving the organisation and avoidingthe fundamental political questions. It even went as far as toaccept the minority's not paying its dues. When the minority ofthe fraction set up a "Co-ordinating Committee" (CC) tonegotiate with the majority and demanded the immediate recognitionof the Barcelona section (even announcing that it considered therefusal to recognise the section as equivalent to the exclusion ofthe minority), the EC initially refused to do so: "TheExecutive Commission based its decision on an elementary criterionand a principle the organisation was founded upon when it decidednot to recognise the Barcelona group. The decision was taken onthe basis of considerations which were not even discussed by theCo-ordinating Committee and which were published in our previouscommuniqué. It was decided that no member of the minoritywas to be expelled and thus the decision of the Co-ordinatingCommittee in considering the whole minority expelled if theBarcelona group was not recognised, is quite incomprehensible".Given the minority's threat to split otherwise, the EC decided torecognise the Barcelona section; however, it refused to recognisethe newly integrated militants of the section, on the grounds thatthey had joined on a completely unclear basis and had not evenagreed to the fraction's basic founding documents. Throughout,"The EC (...) based itself on the same principle: thatsplits must take place over questions of principle and not overquestions particular to a tendency and still less overorganisational questions". This determination to maintainthe political debate was to no effect. The minority refused toattend the congress of the fraction, organised in order to discussthe contending positions, refused to make its own politicaldocuments known to the EC, and made contact with the anti-fascistgroup "Giustizia e Liberta". Consequently, "Inthese circumstances, the Executive Commission is of the opinionthat the evolution of the minority is clear proof that it can nolonger be considered as a tendency of the organisation but as areflection of the Popular Front within the Fraction. Consequentlythere can be no problem of a political split in the organisation.

"Consideringmoreover that the minority is flirting with obviouscounter-revolutionary enemies of the Fraction (?) while at thesame time declaring any discussion with the Fraction to beuseless, the EC has decided to expel for political unworthinessall the comrades who are in solidarity with the CC's letter of25/11/1936, and it will allow fifteen days for the comrades of theminority to come to a collective decision".

In defence of organisational discipline

The Italian Left underwent another crisis atthe beginning of World War II, when the Fraction dissolved on thebasis of a theory defended by Vercesi, that the proletariatdisappeared as a class during wartime. However, during the warsome of its members regrouped around the Marseilles nucleus. Inparallel, a French Fraction of the Communist Left (FFGC) wasformed. In 1945, a new crisis broke out. In Italy, a new PartitoComunista Internazionalista had just been created by those membersof the Italian Left who had spent the war in Mussolini's gaols.The Italian Fraction decided to dissolve, and to rejoin the ranksof the party on an individual basis. The FFGC severely criticisedthis decision, on the grounds that the basis for the formation ofthe new party in Italy was unclear, and that the Fraction'sdissolution turned its back on all the work accomplished duringthe war by the Italian Fraction in exile. Marco, member of boththe Italian Fraction and the FFGC, refused the liquidation of theFraction. Part of the FFGC, however, adopted the position of themajority in the Italian Fraction, but instead of defending thispolitical position within the organisation, these militantspreferred to conduct a campaign of slander inside and outside theorganisation, directed essentially against Marco. Unsuccessful inpersuading these comrades to return to the framework oforganisational discipline, the FFGC adopted a resolutionsanctioning them (17/06/1945):22"The General Assembly reasserts its position of principle,namely that splits and exclusions cannot be a means for resolvinga political debate, as long as disagreements are on the grounds ofthe programmatic foundation of our principles. On the contrary,organisational measures in a political debate can only obscure theproblem, preventing the complete maturation of tendencies, whichalone will allow the movement to come to a conclusion and tostrengthen the fraction's political heritage through politicalstruggle. But it does not follow from this position of principlethat political elaboration can be conducted under no matter whatconditions. Political elaboration is only possible if elementaryorganisational rules are respected, and in a fraternal andcollective work in the interests of the class and of theorganisation (...)

"Refusing toexplain themselves either in front of all the comrades, orpublicly in our organ Internationalisme, these elementshave published a communiqué signed 'a group of militantsfrom P', in which they indulge in insulting attacks and slanders(...)

"These two elements have thus openlyand publicly broken their last ties to the fraction of the FrenchCommunist Left (...)

"The activityof Al and F has revealed both the incompatibility of theirpresence within the organisation, and a political break which putsthem outside the organisation (...) Taking note of these facts,the organisation sanctions them by suspending comrades Al and Ffor one year (...) the assembly demands that they returnimmediately the organisation's material in their care".

What the Fraction is emphasising here is notjust that the organisation has the right to expect that itsmembers' behaviour be in accord with its principles, but even morefundamentally that the development of debate, and therefore ofconsciousness, is not possible without the respect of rules commonto all.

The organisation's statutes inaccord with the being of the proletariat

In an article published in 1999,23,we developed our vision of the statutes' role in the life of arevolutionary organisation: "we have always been faithfulto Lenin's method and the lessons he has left on organisationalmatters. The political struggle to establish precise rulesregulating organisational relationships, in other words Statutes,is fundamental. The struggle to have them respected is equally so,of course. Without this, grand declarations on the Party remainmere empty words (...) Lenin's contribution is particularlyconcerned with internal debate, the duty - not merely the right -to express any disagreement within an organisational framework andto the organisation as a whole; and once debates are settled anddecisions taken by the Congress (which is the sovereign body, theorganisation's general assembly in effect), then the subordinationof both parts and individual militants to the whole. Contrary tothe widespread idea that Lenin was a dictator who sought only tostifle debate and political life within the organisation, inreality he consistently opposed the Menshevik vision of theCongress as 'a recorder, a controller, but not a creator'24(...) The revolutionary organisation's statutes are not merelyexceptional measures, safety barriers. They are the concretisationof the organisational principles proper to the proletariat'spolitical vanguards. They are the products of these principles, atone and the same time a weapon in the fight against organisationalopportunism, and the foundation on which the revolutionaryorganisation must be built. They are the expression of its unity,its centralisation, its political and organisational life, and itsclass character. They are the rule and the spirit which must guidethe militants from day to day in their relations with theorganisation and other militants, in the tasks entrusted to them,in their rights and duties, and in their daily personal life,which can be in contradiction neither with their militant activitynor with communist principles".

The especially stronginsistence in our statutes on the framework which should not justallow, but encourage the widest possible debate within theorganisation, comes in large part from the experience of the leftfractions who fought against the degeneration of the old workers'parties. However, there is one aspect in which our organisationhas lagged behind those of our predecessors: the treatment ofserious accusations directed against a militant, and especiallythe most serious of all, that of collaborating with the repressiveapparatus of the state. The organisations of the past knew frombitter and repeated experience that the bourgeois state was expertin the infiltration of agents provocateurs, and that therole of the provocateur was not merely to spy onrevolutionaries and to deliver them into the hands of therepressive state apparatus, but to sow the seeds ofself-destructive mistrust and suspicion among the revolutionariesthemselves. They also knew that such mistrust was not necessarilythe work of a provocateur, but that it could also be thefruit of the jealousies, frustrations, and resentments which arepart and parcel of life in capitalist society, and from whichrevolutionaries are not immune. Consequently, as we have shown inarticles published in our territorial press,25this question was a key element in the statutes of previousproletarian political organisations: not just the fact ofprovocation, but the accusation of provocation levelled at anymilitant, was treated with the utmost seriousness.26

oOo

The proletariat opposes the blind forces ofthe capitalist economy and the repressive power of the bourgeoisstate with the conscious and organised force of a worldrevolutionary class. The proletariat opposes the leaden disciplineimposed by capitalist society with a voluntary and consciousdiscipline, which is a vital element in its unity and its abilityto organise.

When they commit themselves to a communistorganisation, militants accept the discipline that springs fromthe recognition of what is necessary for the cause of theproletarian revolution and the liberation of humanity from themillennial yoke of class exploitation. But their commitment torespect common rules of action does not mean that communistsabandon their critical spirit towards their class or theirorganisation. On the contrary, this critical spirit for whichevery militant is responsible, is vital to the organisation's veryexistence, since without it the organisation can only become anempty shell whose revolutionary words are nothing but the mask foran opportunist practice. This is why it was the left, inparticular, which fought to the end within the degeneratingCommunist International against the use of administrativediscipline to settle political disagreements.

This struggle was not conducted in the nameof "freedom of thought", the "right to criticise"or other such anarchist and bourgeois illusions. As we have seenin the course of this article, in general it was not the left, butthe opportunist tendencies, expressions of the organisation'spenetration by bourgeois or petty bourgeois ideas, who were thefirst to break organisational discipline. In general, themilitants of the left like Lenin, Luxemburg, or Bordiga, were themost determined to respect the decisions of the organisation, ofits congresses and central organs, and to struggle for itsprinciples whether in the form of programmatic positions or rulesof functioning and behaviour.

As we have shownthrough the examples of the left fractions in the German SPD andthe Communist International, the degeneration of an organisationputs the left's militants before a terrible choice: whether or notto break organisational discipline in order to remain faithful tothe "discipline towards the party as a whole, in otherwords towards its programme", in Luxemburg's words. Theworking class has the right to expect that its left fractionsundertake such a choice with the greatest seriousness. Breakingorganisational discipline is not something to be taken lightly,for this self-discipline is at the heart of the organisation'sunity, and of the mutual confidence which must unite comrades intheir struggle for communism.

Jens 

NOTES

 

1."Theses on bourgeois democracy and proletarian dictatorship",March 1919, reprinted in International Review n°100.

2.Fundamentally, Lenin is doing nothing other here than reformulating the famous words of the Communist Manifesto: "The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable".

3.The glorification of individual sabotage is an example.

 

4.In essence, Lenin here is simply elaborating on thefamous words of the Communist Manifesto: "Theessential conditions for the existence and for the sway of thebourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; thecondition for capital is wage labour. Wage labour restsexclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance ofindustry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replacesthe isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by therevolutionary combination, due to association. The development ofModern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the veryfoundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriatesproducts. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, areits own grave-diggers".

5Internationalisme n°25, August 1947, reprinted inInternational Review n°34

6In Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, MonthlyReview Press, p128.

7Ibid, p304.

8We will not, in this article, deal with the conflict at the 1903Congress which led to the formation of the Bolshevik and Mensheviktendencies in the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party),which has been already been described in the InternationalReview. In this case too, it is clear that the it was theopportunist wing - the Mensheviks - who flouted party disciplinethe day after the Congress by transgressing the decisions adoptedby the congress itself (see Lenin, One step forward, two stepsback).

9.That said, she is clearly right to insist that the organisation'sstatutes remain no more than words on a scrap of paper, if theyare not defended by the conscious involvement of the party's ownmilitants.

10.Quoted in Rosa Luxemburg by Paul Frölich. Frölich'stestimony is first-hand, since he was one of Luxemburg's studentsin the party school and a leader of the Bremen left radical in theSPD.

11.Throughout the war, the Spartakists constantly demanded theholding of a new congress so that the dissensions could be widelydebated. The party leadership always refused. The same was true ofthe Mensheviks. After the Mensheviks' "coup d'Etat"immediately following the 1903 congress (thanks to Plekhanov'sturn-around), by which they took control of Iskra, theBolsheviks insistently demanded the holding of a new congress,which the Mensheviks refused.

12.This discipline was enforced by the imprisonment of militants ortheir despatch to death on the front line.

13.Nonetheless, at least one leader of the left wing, Leo Jogisches,was against this decision on the grounds that it would give theleadership an excuse to expel the left, and thus to isolate themfrom the rest of the militants: "Such a split in thesecircumstances would not mean the expulsion from the party of themajority and of Scheidemann's men, as we wish, but wouldnecessarily lead to the dispersal of the party's best comradesinto small circles and condemn them to complete impotence. Weconsider this tactic damaging and even destructive".

14.Like Liebknecht, Otto Rühle was an SPD deputy; whenLiebknecht voted against the second government demand for warcredits in December 1914, Rühle joined him.

15.Frölich, op.cit. The quotations are from Luxemburg's "Guidingprinciples for the tasks of the international Social Democracy",originally published with the Junius Pamphlet.

16.An example of the "particularism" confronted by theInternational was the refusal of the French Communist Party, inthe name of "national specificities" to apply the rulesof the International by refusing to admit freemasons. Once again,in its first years when it was still a living organisation of theproletariat, the most flagrant examples of indiscipline in theCommunist International came from the opportunists.

17.Quoted in Défense de la continuité du programmecommuniste, published by the Parti Communiste International,p144.

18.The German Communist Party

19.These quotes both taken from the ICC's book on The ItalianCommunist Left, 1926-45, p27.

20.This was clearly a manoeuvre by the minority, since the hastyintegration of new members would have converted the minority intoa majority of the fraction.

21.This and the quotes that follow are from Bilan n°34-36,reprinted in International Review n°7.

22Published in the FFGC's Bulletin Extérieur, June1945.

23See International Review n°97, "Have we becomeLeninists?".

24.Quoted from Trotsky, Report of the Siberian Delegation.

25.See World Revolution n°252 and 253

26.We can cite as an example point 9 in the statutes of the League ofthe Just (the predecessor of the Communist League): "Thereis open behaviour amongst all the brothers. If anybody wants tocomplain about people or questions belonging to the League, thenhe must do so openly in the [section] meeting. Slandererswill be excluded".